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Russia to legalize private military contractors to get a leg up in Africa

Moscow may take a page out of the Washington defense establishment’s playbook to get in on the new race for Africa

Andrew Korybko

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(OrientalReview) – The upcoming draft proposal to legalize private military companies (PMCs, a.k.a. “mercenaries”) in Russia could give the country a competitive edge over its rivals by helping it carve out a valuable and much-demanded niche as a reliable security provider, thus enabling it to later leverage its strategic advantage to reap energy, mineral, economic, and other “rewards” in incentivizing the Kremlin to undertake a full-on “Pivot to Africa”.

RT reported that Russian parliamentarians are going to submit a draft proposal in the coming weeks to legalize the “mercenary” industry, which is officially referred to as “private military companies” (PMCs), with the outlet arguing that this step is long overdue and would simply amount to Russia keeping pace with other Great Powers. That said, it’s bound to generate considerable international attention if it passes owing to the Mainstream Media’s War on Russia, with conspiratorial accusations likely emerging in its wake in an attempt to pin the blame for all levels of global unrest from Afghanistan to Africa on the shoulders of Russian “mercenaries”. Accepting that there will likely be a flood of negative and mostly inaccurate reporting surrounding this topic, it’s much more worthwhile to concentrate on the “positive” aspects of what the legislative proposal could entail in the long term for Russia’s grand strategy.

Making Sense Of Mercenaries

The first thing that needs to be done is for the reader to abandon what might be their preexisting moral aversion to “mercenaries” and recognize that this element of “plausibly deniable” force projection by states is now part and parcel of today’s world, for better or for worse. The PMC industry has long been used by governments to indirectly exert influence in “sensitive” regions or contexts, relying on the fact that it’s ultimately a “private” company doing the work in order to eschew responsibility for the fighters’ actions if something “goes wrong”, like what infamously occurred with Blackwater in 2007 during the American occupation of Iraq. In addition, governments don’t have an obligation to publicly report on PMC casualties, so contracting their services means that they can keep the “official” casualty count low in order to avoid inciting public opposition to the given operation at home. That, however, is only relevant insofar as the respective campaign is common knowledge, which sometimes isn’t the case.

Other than amplifying the combat capabilities of openly deployed military forces in a conflict theater, PMCs also serve a very valuable role in having the said armed forces indirectly partake in missions abroad that haven’t been officially declared, whether through the media or even to the country’s own citizens per whatever its legal procedures may be. This “work flow” is possible because many “mercenaries” are former members of the state’s military, some of whom still retain contact with this body and could conceivably coordinate with it, as has often been suspected is the case. Not only that, but former intelligence agents and other “deep state” operatives are sometimes employed in this industry as well, thus making it an unofficial extension of a country’s power apparatus if “properly” applied. Taken together, the abovementioned two main qualities of PMCs make them desirable assets for all Great Powers, which explains why Russia is finally stepping up to the plate to wield this tool of national power.

The African Angle

There had previously been reports of Russian “mercenaries” in Syria even before the country officially began its 2015 anti-terrorist intervention there, and similar claims have recently popped up in Bosnia and might even be outright invented for Afghanistan in the future in order to concoct a “politically convenient” fake news narrative there, but the most pertinent of which to focus on in the course of this article is what Stratfor recently said about the African angle of this topic. The private intelligence firm alleged that the Kremlin dispatched the “Wagner Group” to Sudan and the Central African Republic, and while this assertion can’t be independently verified, it would indeed have a certain logic to it, especially in light of Russia’s latest strategic interactions with these countries.

To brief readers who might not have been keeping an eye on Russian-African relations, Russia was invited by Sudan to establish a military base on the Red Sea, and the country also successfully lobbied the UNSC to partially lift its arms embargo on the Central African Republic so as to facilitate Moscow’s arms transfers to this war-torn country. The author wrote about both of these developments last month in two articles titled “Here’s Why Russia Might Set Up A Red Sea Base In Sudan” and “Why Does Russia Want To Sell Arms To The Central African Republic?”, which can concisely be summarized as Russia’s desire to establish a strategic presence in the indispensable country along China’s African Silk Road and to lay the security groundwork for later “balancing” continental affairs through future involvement in various peace processes, respectively.

Having these objectives in mind, it makes perfect sense why Russia might have actually dispatched “mercenaries” to those two African states in order to assist with those missions, but considering that PMCs might soon be legalized, regulated, and possibly even promoted within Russia, it’s very likely that this is just the first step in a larger “Pivot to Africa” that will be unfolding in the coming years, and one which desires much more tangible dividends than those already mentioned.

Reaping The “Rewards”

Russian servicemen did an astounding job defeating Daesh in Syria, and their newfound global renown could understandably make them highly sought-after “mercenary” assets all across the world, and especially in the conflict-strewn and volatile regions of resource-rich Africa. While establishing a strategic presence in part of the continent and playing a role in conflict resolution processes are both very important, they don’t in and of themselves bring any physical “rewards” for Russia, which is why this multipolar Great Power will probably also leverage its PMC appeal for more “earthly” gains, perhaps quite literally.

In particular, Russia might reach an agreement with its trusted Chinese global partner to protect the Silk Roads – especially those in Africa – in exchange for lucrative commercial contracts along it, which could in many cases result in energy or mining deals that eventually lead to a further and more robust Russian presence in the continent. Moscow, after all, would be fulfilling a vital function for Beijing by “informally” flexing its military muscles in the most Hybrid War-prone part of the world. It might sound condescending that Russia would work through China in clinching African deals instead of the host states themselves, but it’s already the case that Beijing controls a sizeable amount of the continent’s extractive industries and is therefore the most logical actor for Moscow to engage with on this front.

Even so, Russia doesn’t want to be China’s “junior partner” in Africa forever, especially since it’s prospectively slated to assume a disproportionately important role in protecting its global paradigm-changing New Silk Road assets, which is why Moscow will probably roll out a comprehensive “mercenary”-led policy there in the near future following the expected legalization of the PMC industry. To explain, Russia is regarded as the most “neutral” Great Power interested in Africa, and to that end its “mercenary” services would already be in high demand in principle, not even accounting for the battle-tested value that its former servicemen could provide to any client.

Coupled with Russia’s toolkit of “military” and “balancing” diplomacy, PMCs could transport, guard, and possibly even employ Russian weaponry provided to conflict-plagued states in order to help their governments shape the battlefield situation to the point where international-(and Russian-) mediated political solutions can be considered, possibly even including the implementation of “Identity Federalism”. So long as Moscow takes the lead with each of these moves or is involved to an important extent, then Russia could quickly play the part of “Africa’s Guardian” in helping to safeguard peace and security there more reliably than any other country.

The ultimate “reward” for this service would be for the host governments themselves to favor Russian companies over Chinese ones in the dispensation of future contracts regardless of the sphere that they’re in, with an eye on eventually making Moscow one of their strategic partners in order to counterbalance any real or imagined fears of being “dominated” by Beijing. This win-win outcome would see Russia and China entering into a “friendly” and complementary multipolar competition with one another in Africa that would work out to every party’s benefit by diversifying their relationships and solidifying stability in the continent.

Concluding Thoughts

Russia is in the midst of a global Great Power resurgence that’s seeing it exert its influential reach into all corners of the world, which naturally includes Africa as well. However, it’s this continent where Russia’s sway is weakest following the strategic retreat that Moscow undertook in the last days of the Soviet era, and from which it has yet to fully recover. In the two and a half decades since, Russia has lagged far behind all of its competitors in Africa, meaning that the only hope for it to catch up is to unveil a totally new and ambitious vision that satisfies a valuable demand and can subsequently be leveraged for tangible “rewards”, hence the policy of using “mercenaries” to stabilize the situation in many resource-rich states and create the conditions for Russia to reap favorable contracts afterwards.

Unlike its American, French, or British counterparts, the Russian military and its PMC offshoots aren’t regarded as having any regional political interests that would “warrant” them partaking in destabilizing measures; to the contrary, Russia’s continental interests are entirely in securing Africa’s stabilization and therefore facilitating commercial, extractive, and public works contracts for its companies. This latter realpolitik motivation is much like China’s, though with the notable exception being that Beijing is unable to provide the level of indirect “mercenary” security assistance that Moscow can, thus increasing Russia’s appeal. On top of that, Russia already has extensive diplomatic experience in promoting a “fair” and “compromised” settlement to the War on Syria, something which sets it apart from all other Great Powers and adds value to its participation in resolving the continent’s crises.

African states are aware that their loyalty and resources are being contested by the West (mostly the US and France in this context) and China, and they’re eager to find a viable third partner in order to “balance” between the two and hopefully obtain the best benefits from each of them. India and Japan, which are teaming up to construct the “Asia-Africa Growth Corridor” (also known as the “Freedom Corridor”), can’t offer the hard infrastructure projects that China can and are mostly marketing their soft infrastructural development strategies (healthcare, schools, job training, etc.), which doesn’t differentiate them much from the competition and therefore disqualifies them as substantial “third partners”. Turkey, while having its own unique attractiveness primarily in its “Islamic Democracy” governing model and sizeable economic investments, doesn’t have any relevant security experience in Africa apart from Somalia and lacks the leading conflict resolution capacities that Russia has.

All of this leads to the conclusion that Russia is far better suited to play the role of African countries’ third “balancing” partner than any other state, and that these governments’ embrace of Moscow could actually come to embody a 21st-century iteration of the “Non-Aligned Movement” in their continent’s New Cold War context. Instead of being firmly in the Western or Chinese ‘camps’, these states could straddle the two by reaching out to Russia and having the unparalleled security and diplomatic assistance that it can offer to them aid in striking a manageable “middle ground”. This is even more poignant of a point when it comes to conflict-wreaked or Hybrid War-prone countries such as Sudan, the Central African Republic, and many others, as they more so than any of their African peers desperately need the security and diplomatic services that only Russia can provide, and Russia of course needs their partnership as the first step to comprehensively commencing its “Pivot to Africa”.

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Constantinople: Ukrainian Church leader is now uncanonical

October 12 letter proclaims Metropolitan Onuphry as uncanonical and tries to strong-arm him into acquiescing through bribery and force.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The pressure in Ukraine kept ratcheting up over the last few days, with a big revelation today that Patriarch Bartholomew now considers Metropolitan Onuphy “uncanonical.” This news was published on 6 December by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (running under the Moscow Patriarchate).

This assessment marks a complete 180-degree turn by the leader of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, and it further embitters the split that has developed to quite a major row between this church’s leadership and the Moscow Patriarchate.

OrthoChristian reported this today (we have added emphasis):

A letter of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine was published yesterday by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in which the Patriarch informed the Metropolitan that his title and position is, in fact, uncanonical.

This assertion represents a negation of the position held by Pat. Bartholomew himself until April of this year, when the latest stage in the Ukrainian crisis began…

The same letter was independently published by the Greek news agency Romfea today as well.

It is dated October 12, meaning it was written just one day after Constantinople made its historic decision to rehabilitate the Ukrainian schismatics and rescind the 1686 document whereby the Kiev Metropolitanate was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, thereby, in Constantinople’s view, taking full control of Ukraine.

In the letter, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that after the council, currently scheduled for December 15, he will no longer be able to carry his current title of “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

The Patriarch immediately opens his letter with Constantinople’s newly-developed historical claim about the jurisdictional alignment of Kiev: “You know from history and from indisputable archival documents that the holy Metropolitanate of Kiev has always belonged to the jurisdiction of the Mother Church of Constantinople…”

Constantinople has done an about-face on its position regarding Ukraine in recent months, given that it had previously always recognized the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate as the sole canonical primate in Ukraine.

…The bulk of the Patriarch’s letter is a rehash of Constantinople’s historical and canonical arguments, which have already been laid out and discussed elsewhere. (See also here and here). Pat. Bartholomew also writes that Constantinople stepped into the Ukrainian ecclesiastical sphere as the Russian Church had not managed to overcome the schisms that have persisted for 30 years.

It should be noted that the schisms began and have persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements and thus the relevant groups refused to accept union with the Russian Church.

Continuing, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that his position and title are uncanonical:

Addressing you as ‘Your Eminence the Metropolitan of Kiev’ as a form of economia [indulgence/condescension—OC] and mercy, we inform you that after the elections for the primate of the Ukrainian Church by a body that will consist of clergy and laity, you will not be able ecclesiologically and canonically to bear the title of Metropolitan of Kiev, which, in any case, you now bear in violation of the described conditions of the official documents of 1686.

He also entreats Met. Onuphry to “promptly and in a spirit of harmony and unity” participate, with the other hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the founding council of the new Ukrainian church that Constantinople is planning to create, and in the election of its primate.

The Constantinople head also writes that he “allows” Met. Onuphry to be a candidate for the position of primate.

He further implores Met. Onuphry and the UOC hierarchy to communicate with Philaret Denisenko, the former Metropolitan of Kiev, and Makary Maletich, the heads of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” and the schismatic “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” respectively—both of which have been subsumed into Constantinople—but whose canonical condemnations remain in force for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The hierarchs of the Serbian and Polish Churches have also officially rejected the rehabilitation of the Ukrainian schismatics.

Pat. Bartholomew concludes expressing his confidence that Met. Onuphry will decide to heal the schism through the creation of a new church in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onuphry’s leadership is recognized as the sole canonical Orthodox jurisdiction in Ukraine by just about every other canonical Orthodox Jurisdiction besides Constantinople. Even NATO member Albania, whose expressed reaction was “both sides are wrong for recent actions” still does not accept the canonicity of the “restored hierarchs.”

In fact, about the only people in this dispute that seem to be in support of the “restored” hierarchs, Filaret and Makary, are President Poroshenko, Patriarch Bartholomew, Filaret and Makary… and NATO.

While this letter was released to the public eye yesterday, the nearly two months that Metropolitan Onuphry has had to comply with it have not been helped in any way by the actions of both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ukrainian government.

Priests of the Canonical Church in Ukraine awaiting interrogation by the State authorities

For example, in parallel reports released on December 6th, the government is reportedly accusing canonical priests in Ukraine of treason because they are carrying and distributing a brochure entitled (in English): The Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Relations with the State. The Attitude Towards the Conflict in Donbass and to the Church Schism. Questions and Answers.

In a manner that would do any American liberal proud, these priests are being accused of inciting religious hatred, though really all they are doing is offering an explanation for the situation in Ukraine as it exists.

A further piece also released yesterday notes that the Ukrainian government rehabilitated an old Soviet-style technique of performing “inspections of church artifacts” at the Pochaev Lavra. This move appears to be both intended to intimidate the monastics who are living there now, who are members of the canonical Church, as well as preparation for an expected forcible takeover by the new “united Church” that is under creation. The brotherhood characterized the inspections in this way:

The brotherhood of the Pochaev Lavra previously characterized the state’s actions as communist methods of putting pressure on the monastery and aimed at destroying monasticism.

Commenting on the situation with the Pochaev Lavra, His Eminence Archbishop Clement of Nizhyn and Prilusk, the head of the Ukrainian Church’s Information-Education Department, noted:

This is a formal raiding, because no reserve ever built the Pochaev Lavra, and no Ministry of Culture ever invested a single penny to restoring the Lavra, and the state has done nothing to preserve the Lavra in its modern form. The state destroyed the Lavra, turned it into a psychiatric hospital, a hospital for infectious diseases, and so on—the state has done nothing more. And now it just declares that it all belongs to the state. No one asked the Church, the people that built it. When did the Lavra and the land become state property? They belonged to the Church from time immemorial.

With the massive pressure both geopolitically and ecclesiastically building in Ukraine almost by the day, it is anyone’s guess what will happen next.

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Ukrainian leadership is a party of war, and it will continue as long as they’re in power – Putin

“We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

RT

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Via RT…


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has branded the Ukrainian leadership a “party of war” which would continue fueling conflicts while they stay in power, giving the recent Kerch Strait incident as an example.

“When I look at this latest incident in the Black Sea, all what’s happening in Donbass – everything indicates that the current Ukrainian leadership is not interested in resolving this situation at all, especially in a peaceful way,” Putin told reporters during a media conference in the aftermath of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This is a party of war and as long as they stay in power, all such tragedies, all this war will go on.

The Kiev authorities are craving war primarily for two reasons – to rip profits from it, and to blame all their own domestic failures on it and actions of some sort of “aggressors.”

“As they say, for one it’s war, for other – it’s mother. That’s reason number one why the Ukrainian government is not interested in a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Putin stated.

Second, you can always use war to justify your failures in economy, social policy. You can always blame things on an aggressor.

This approach to statecraft by the Ukrainian authorities deeply concerns Russia’s President. “We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been soaring after the incident in the Kerch Strait. Last weekend three Ukrainian Navy ships tried to break through the strait without seeking the proper permission from Russia. Following a tense stand-off and altercation with Russia’s border guard, the vessels were seized and their crews detained over their violation of the country’s border.

While Kiev branded the incident an act of “aggression” on Moscow’s part, Russia believes the whole Kerch affair to be a deliberate “provocation” which allowed Kiev to declare a so-called “partial” martial law ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election.

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When Putin Met Bin Sally

Another G20 handshake for the history books.

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Via Zerohedge


In the annals of handshake photo-ops, we just may have a new winner (much to the delight of oil bulls who are looking at oil treading $50 and contemplating jumping out of the window).

Nothing but sheer joy, delight and friendship…

…but something is missing…

Meanwhile, earlier…

Zoomed in…

And again.

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